Tribune Co. Earnings Jump 75%; Newspapers Up 8%

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By: Dave Carpenter, AP Business Writer

(AP) Fourth-quarter net earnings jumped 75% at Tribune Co. as the media giant benefited from the sale of a minority holding and better-than-expected operating gains in its newspaper and broadcasting divisions.

Tribune, whose holdings include 13 daily newspapers, more than two dozen television stations and the Chicago Cubs, also reported slight improvement in once-lagging advertising revenues.

Net income for the last three months of 2003 was $338.4 million, or $1 per share, compared with $193.5 million, or 57 cents per share, a year earlier.

The results included a $114 million non-operating gain, $100 million of it from the sale of its 9% stake in The Golf Channel for $100 million. Excluding that item, operating earnings were 66 cents a share — 2 cents better than the consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Revenues rose 3% to $1.47 billion from $1.43 billion.

“Our financial results reflect solid growth at Tribune’s publishing and broadcast groups,” said Dennis FitzSimons, Tribune’s chairman, president and chief executive officer. “We achieved these results despite a continuing uncertain advertising environment.”

The newspaper group, which includes the Los Angeles Times (Click for QuikCap), Chicago Tribune, Newsday (Click for QuikCap) and the Spanish-language Hoy, saw revenues increase 2% to $1.08 billion and profits climb 8% to $260 million.

Retail, national and classified advertising revenue all posted modest, single-digit percentage increases, providing hope for more significant growth in 2004 after a long lean period due to the unsettled economy.

FitzSimons said on a conference call that newspaper advertising is up slightly for the first four weeks of the year. “We fully expect print to come back,” he said.

Operating revenues also rose 4% in the broadcasting and entertainment unit as well as television.

Tribune expects to get a lift from the uncharacteristic success of the Cubs, where ticket demand has soared in the wake of its divisional title last year. “Excitement and sales are high for 2004,” FitzSimons told analysts.

For the full year, net earnings were $891.4 million, or $2.61 per share, compared with $443 million, or $1.30 per share, in 2002. Revenues increased 4% to $5.6 billion from $5.4 billion a year earlier.

Tribune shares were up 99 cents to $50.11 in early trading Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

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